When You Find Yourself in Times of Trouble!
You Always Have Choices.
I would have given anything to have been a doctor.
Well, not quite.
I’ll never forget opening the letter from the CAO in the privacy of my old bedroom. The previous Wednesday I’d surprised everyone including myself by getting 56 points in the Leaving Certificate. If they held Medicine at last years points I’d just about scrape in.
I felt lucky. I wasn’t. I was offered my second choice. Commerce in UCG.
I reflected on it for awhile. ‘A ‘wee’ while,’ as they in Donegal.
These were days before Brian Lenihan Snr had kindly bestowed on the nation the philosophy of ‘Mature Reflection,’ and there were pints to be drank and girls to be courted and a career in business to be envisioned. I couldn’t burst through that bedroom door quick enough.
Needless to say I accepted what I was offered – Commerce in UCG.
Four of my friends also failed to get the points for Medicine in UCG that day. Interestingly, they’re all doctors today.
Two of them choose to repeat the Leaving Certificate. The third guy took the scenic route and did a Bachelor of Science Degree and then got a concession into Medicine. The fourth person, if he was doing the Leaving until today, would still not have acquired the requisite 60 points entry level.
I recall vividly listening to him one night in the Cellar Bar in Galway prattling on about ‘still doing Medicine despite the Leaving Cert results.’ I felt compelled to spell it out for him. ‘Look here Einstein’ – he liked that – ‘you need points to do Medicine in UCG. 60 of them. You’re way off. It’s impossible for you to become a doctor.’
In his stupidity he continued to affirm that he’d be ‘a doctor someday.’
And he is. And a bloody good one. He discovered, through conscious choice and constancy of purpose, that qualification for Medicine in the UK was based on a combination of an interview for bedside manner and a certain modicum of academic points. He was more than suitably qualified. And so was I, had I known.
But back in 1979 no one had explained to me that life is a series of choices. My four buddies had consciously chosen to be doctors and chosen to pay in full the price that it required.
I, on the other hand, had chosen what society had offered me, and as such, unconsciously, had chosen by default.
* * * * * * * * * * *
It’s said that ‘those things that hurt, instruct,’ and I must say, that the lesson of conscious choice had seldom been lost on me.
Even now, just minutes after getting news that I had a growth in my heart, I realised intuitively that I had a choice to make. I could return home and justifiably feel sorry for myself. Or I could continue on to Thurles and try and present to a group of business people as scheduled.
My thoughts – wild horses – were stampeding. I succeeded in slowing those thoughts down and entertaining them one at a time in the knowledge that the conscious mind can ever only deal with one thought at a time.
Most of the thoughts were negative in the extreme and counselled me to get my ass back to Galway pronto. I listened to them, acknowledged them and mostly agreed with them.
And in the midst of the mental carnage came the iconic words from The Beatles.
‘When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me.
Speaking words of wisdom…….
Except in my case it was my Aunty Mary. The kindest, wisest and most caring person you’d ever encounter. But instead of ending the verse with ‘Let it Be,’ she very clearly was saying to me.
‘Do the right thing Pá because it’s right.’
That philosophy or mindset was what I needed. I made a conscious choice to drive to Thurles and see how I felt when I got there.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The Horse and Jockey Hotel and Conference Centre is one of the busiest in Ireland. This morning was no different. Each meeting room was packed to the gills with the good and great of corporate Ireland and at 11am, they were now all spilling out for the ubiquitous ‘elevenses’.
Even amidst the clutter and chaos, Logisticat stood out. Their corporate livery was crisp, punchy and well designed. Their team was actively working the room – making eye contact; shaking hands; looking after their guests. They served scones and cream as opposed to the standard hotel biscuits.
Everything about Logisticat exuded class. None more so than the presence of their Founder, Jim Anderson.
I’d never met Jim.
This weekend I’d received a phone call from Jack Kennedy. Not a man given to superfluous talk, he had waxed lyrical for fifteen minutes on the exploits and achievements of his best friend Jim. He described how as, a young Engineer, he had blazed a trail in Europe developing massive business for every company he worked for. Then, in 2005, he had set up Logisticat, and it was now a major player in the global Logistics industry. He described Jim as being one of natures great leaders.
Tragically, Jim passed on last Christmas at the young age of 45. The conference essentially was an opportunity for the company to meet its customers and reassure them of it’s current status and future plans for the business. In keeping with the company ethos of quality and professionalism a carefully prepared agenda had been agreed to impress and inspire their customers. It was to feature a number of technical inputs from the management team and conclude with an uplifting motivational address to send clients home in an upbeat and positive mood.
The motivational speaker was to have been Babs Keating, the iconic former Tipperary hurling player and manager. Regrettably Babs had had a family bereavement at the last moment and was unable to perform the address. In a panic, Janet Anderson, Jim’s wife had gotten my name from Jack Kennedy and we’d talked by phone the day before yesterday.
She was understandably very uptight about having someone she’d never met present to her best customers. And despite the best of reassurances, Janet still needed sanction from the Board to approve my candidacy. They had ratified that with a fair degree of nervousness only yesterday.
I instantly recognised the Chairman from his photo on the website. Together with Jim, he’d founded the company in 2007. He decked me too, presumably from my website, and he made a bee line for me.
Dermot Simpson was quietly spoken, deliberate and attentive to detail.
I am loud, spontaneous and as yet, hadn’t even decided what I was going to talk about.
Despite our respective differences we shared one thing in common. We were both consummate professionals. Intuitively we knew that the most critical factor right now was to make those customers feel special irrespective of our divergent personal styles.
‘You’ll be wanting to check if your PowerPoint is working Pádraic. Let me bring you in to Max Casey our IT Director.’
I’d witnessed far too many deaths by PowerPoint to be a fan of it and hadn’t decided yet whether to use one or not. I decided however not to make an issue of it.
Max was rehearsing his presentation on the stage in the theatre. If Dermot was attentive to detail Max was obsessive about it. He systematically flicked through slide after slide of evidence based factual data on every conceivable logistical challenge. Proudly, he informed me that ‘hard nosed empirical research’ was what separated Logisticat from their competitors and his role was to provide it in abundance and share it with his customers.
When I asked him casually as to what he thought his customers would like to get from my presentation he responded emphatically. ‘Gear and Facts.’
He informed me that the presentation before the break featured a demonstration of all their systems. In addition, their clients were some of the most successful people in the Logistics industry and that ultimately they were interested in facts about being more efficient, more effective and more productive.
The wild ponies in my mind proceeded to stampede and break out of the paddock.
- You’ve got a massive big growth in your heart and it could clot during your presentation and kill you on stage.
- You’ve got cancer and probably won’t survive the summer.
- There’s no way you’ll get your head together and be able to speak for forty minutes.
- You’ve no ‘Gear’ – you don’t even have a PowerPoint presentation.
- You know nothing about the logistics and these guys want ‘Facts.’
- Kennedy will kill you if you’re not spectacularly good.
In keeping with their culture of discipline and good time management the meeting resumed. The Chairman announced that Max would speak for thirty minutes and I would follow for forty minutes.
Those thirty minutes were amongst the longest of my entire life. As the fuller implications of what had been broken to me earlier that morning began to register I descended into a deep pit of fear and desolation and self-pity. The wild ponies were footloose and on the rampage again and if I was to compose myself to speak they had to be reined in and managed again.
I listened to the uproar in my head with mounting alarm and considered my choices. There really seemed to be only two. I could apologise to the Chairman, tell him the genuine truth, and decline to speak based on reasonably justifiable grounds of trauma and anxiety. Or I could attempt to speak and in all probability make a pigs ear of it.
I resorted this time to doing what weak people the world over do when faced with challenging choices. I did nothing. I chickened out of making any choice and as such ‘choose by default.’ I recalled Brian Tracy once saying that ‘You’re always choosing. The simple act of ‘not choosing’ is in itself a choice.’
Max concluded with a summary slide of all his slides and the Chairman called for questions. To my utter astonishment question after question emerged from the floor. Max was right. This audience loved facts and he indulged them further in some of the finer points of ‘integrated mono logistical systems.’ There was warm applause on his conclusion.
I saw a text flash on my mobile phone from Jack Kennedy. ‘No pressure P but this is a really important presentation. I’ll be expecting an extra special performance.’ If he only knew.
The Chairman introduced me by reading a typed biographical profile he’d downloaded from my website. Factually correct. Inspirationally anaemic. It was certainly no Babs Keating. And the audience responded in kind. With a quiet and polite hand clap.
The audience were scattered roughly ten abreast in six rows descending theatre like to the floor. They were quiet, polite and waiting.
And there they were. In the bottom row. Centre aisle. Janet Anderson was class personified. Her designer dress was dark and demure. Respectably mournful yet elegantly classic. Her stylish hair was tinged with the faintest hue of natural grey that only people of real confidence and presence can wear.
She smiled encouragingly but no amount of faking could disguise the fear and apprehension in that smile. A short few months ago she had blissfully managed the family dimension of Jim Anderson’s life leaving him free to do what he did best – develop a global business. Today, like it or like it not, she’d be expected to present the public face of Logisticat without Jim . And right now, more than anything else, she needed me to make a good impression.
Jason sat to the right of his mother with all the demeanour of a mature adult, yet barely seventeen. His eye contact was steady, interested and warm.
In another week Jason would finish his Transition Year. In a perfect world he should be dreaming about mornings in bed; the World Cup; and girls. And whilst in due course that will happen, today the boy had been catapulted into an adults world. A world where he was expected to look good, sound good and perform.
And in that instant I was struck by the difference between age and maturity. To age is inevitable and inexorable. It’s physical. It simply happens. Everyone ages. Even Madonna has aged. And Obama too. There’s little achievement in ageing.
To mature however, is far from being a fait de complet. It demands emotional intelligence. It requires becoming consciously aware of your choices in every moment of your existence. Mature people consciously and repeatedly choose their response to circumstances. Mature people choose to be graceful under pressure and as such they lead the world.
In short, mature people and organisations take responsibility for their results.
Like Janet and Jason, I too could, and would, perform at my best for forty minutes. I could focus 100% on that audience and I could consign any morbid or negative thoughts or feeling sorry for myself for another time.
In a nanosecond I went from desperation to inspiration.
Ignoring any PowerPoint I began by saying. ‘Max tells me you love facts and gear. Today, I want to talk to you about some mental facts and the gear you need to deal with them.’
I went on to reveal that in Ireland today there are 400,000 people on antidepressants with the figure projected to rise to 600,000 by 2020. I discussed some alarming American findings that disclose that 80% of new businesses go bankrupt within five years. And I revealed that what David Thoreau concluded in 1850 is still true in that ‘60% of us lead lives of quiet desperation and are less than happy with the careers we have.’
I then proceeded to give them some decent practical strategies to confront and cope with those three issues.
I knew a thing or two about Munster audiences. They don’t do instant intimacy. They like to see you earn your corn before warming and responding to you. But if you’re prepared to hang on in there and give it a decent shot there’s no more better audience in the land.
For those forty minutes I forgot about the growth in my heart and focused on the fire in my heart. It worked a dream. The crowd caught on and joined in. I only have three funny stories in my repertoire. As a minimum standard of performance I always try to get one in. That day, I succeeded in getting all three in.
SUMMARY: You Always Have Choices.
- Montaigne fairly nailed it when he said, ‘Choice, not chance, determines destiny.’ Like it, or like it not, you are always choosing. You are either doing this consciously, unconsciously, or someone else is choosing for you. The key takeaway from this post is to become a proactive or conscious choice maker. Brian Tracy is on the money when he says, ‘You are always free to choose what you do first, what you do second, and what you choose not to do at all.’
- ‘Do the right thing because it’s right’ is the filter or benchmark to run your choices by. Doing the right thing will frequently not be the easiest, most desirable or popular choice – but ultimately, you will come to appreciate that what Harry Potter was told in ‘The Chamber of Secrets’ is true. ‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’
- Remember that there’s a massive difference between age and maturity. Francis Bacon once said. ‘A person that is young in years may be old in hours if they’ve lost no time.’ Maturity is a direct function of taking responsibility for your choices in life. There’s a little tension brewing between academic and business circles currently. For years the academic community prided itself on the concept of IQ, or Intellectual Quotient. It measured intellectual intelligence and was proven to be largely genetic and fixed. In recent times the concept of EQ, or Emotional Intelligence has emerged and it’s been proven that 90% of all successful CEOs have high levels of EQ but not necessarily IQ. EQ, or ‘Maturity’, is the fundamental characteristic of all high performers. And the good news is that’s it’s neither genetic or fixed. It’s learnable. Your choice.
- Woody Allen once said that ‘Showing up is 80 percent of life. Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed. I’ve done both.’ To understand better the meaning of this quotation study carefully the photograph at the beginning of this post. On the left is my great friend David Tarpey having completed the famous Prom Swim in Galway last week. The Prom Swim is the longest open sea swimming race in Ireland and is not for doggy (or dodgy) paddlers. What the photograph fails to reveal is that Tarps is paralysed from his chest down. He swam that race in one hour and six minutes – on his back, against the tide, and without any buoyancy aid or wet suit. That’s what ‘Showing up’ means. And in case you think he just decided to swim it on a whim one sunny Saturday afternoon you’d have been unaware that Tarps has trained five nights a week since January to be prepared for this swim. That’s showing up. It’s a conscious choice. A mature choice.
- I heard Stephen Covey tell a story in Dublin once that blew my mind away. He described getting into an empty carriage of a train early one Sunday morning. Everything was quiet and peaceful until at the next stop a man got in with four kids and they were going ballistic. What was worse was that the man didn’t even seem to notice. He did nothing to intervene. Covey made a conscious choice. He decided to politely inform the man that his kids were creating a scene and asked him if he could control them. The man apologised and explained that, ‘They’re mother died just three hours ago and I don’t know how best to deal with them.’ Covey said he experienced for the first time what a ‘Paradigm Shift’ was. He said the entire carriage – which moments earlier had been furious – were now offering sympathy and help and support to the family. You too can induce a paradigm shift in your life by focusing less on yourself and more on other people. It’s another mature choice.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my favourite writers of all time, counselled to ‘Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.’ This is such a gem of wisdom that we’ll devote an entire chapter to it later but there’s nothing to prevent you starting it today.
- Focus on the fire in your heart as opposed to the fear in your mind. To repeat once again, your conscious mind is only ever capable of entertaining one thought at a time. As Les Brown says ‘You can either live your dreams or you can live your fears.’ Sounds like another conscious choice.
- And be aware, that at 17 or 53, the show goes on.
If you’re enjoying reading these blogs, please share them with your colleagues and friends by sending me their email address and we’ll include them on our list. In addition, if you feel like getting an immersion in this content, and getting around a really upbeat group of people, I’m running a Smácht Mór in Galway on November 14th for the day. It will be the only public event I’m doing before Christmas and it will be awesome. Numbers are limited, so connect with me now.
Next week: All You Need is Smácht.